The East’s biggest night
How blessed are we that two makeup games would give us two almost comically essential games? Ninth-place Charlotte take on eighth-place Columbus at 7 pm ET. Seventh-place Inter Miami take on sixth-place Orlando City at 8 pm ET. Both games are on MLS LIVE on ESPN+.
CF Montréal midfielder Wanyama won't return for 2023: CF Montréal midfielder and captain Victor Wanyama won’t be back for the 2023 MLS season, he confirmed in a Tuesday media availability. The former Kenya national team captain has been CFM’s sole Designated Player this year, helping steer the club toward possibly the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Sign up for The Daily Kickoff in your inbox! The Daily Kickoff is more than an article – it can be delivered to your email account as well.
You genuinely couldn’t have planned it any better. You’re bad at planning. So the universe did it for you.
Tonight’s two games are both massive and both makeup games: one from a rainout earlier this season (Charlotte-Columbus), the other (Inter Miami-Orlando) was rescheduled to accommodate the Lions’ US Open Cup campaign. The fact both matches are giving us a “Round Zero” of the playoffs is just another sign the higher powers above us see MLS as favorable in their sight.
Charlotte will be eliminated if they don’t win tonight, but will put themselves in position for a Decision Day miracle if they win. A win puts them just one point back of Columbus and at least within two points of whoever is in seventh place after tonight. Columbus will be looking to keep pace with Inter Miami and Orlando, who enter the night equal on points and games played. Inter Miami can clinch a playoff spot with a win thanks to Columbus and Orlando facing off on Decision Day. And Orlando can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Columbus loss.
It’s going to be awesome. Of course you’re going to watch. You don’t need me to convince you here. But here are a few keys to each game tonight to keep in mind as you gaze in wonder at all this timeline of existence has provided us.
Charlotte FC vs. Columbus Crew
- WHEN: 7 pm ET
- WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+
A sprint to the end
If all of the stakes somehow weren’t interesting enough, Charlotte-Columbus is a sprint and not a marathon. The game will begin from exactly where it left off when it got rained out on July 30. The game will start in the 16th minute and will continue with the same players who were on the field and with the same exact bench.
It will be fascinating to see who actually uses that bench though. Charlotte will be forced to from the jump it looks like, thanks to injuries to goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina and center back Guzman Corujo. But overall, the substitutions that normally have more impact the more tired their opponents' legs are will all lose a bit of their bite here. The flip side of that is the starters will be able to put a little extra into their 75 or so minutes on the field knowing they have a limited amount of time to make a difference. So do you just say go all out and we’ll make our normal subs with 30 and 15 minutes to go as normal?
It’s such a weird and interesting wrinkle that you almost feel like it should happen more often. Let’s just do a Round Zero every year with 60-minute games?
Hey, so, does that mean Columbus have gotten rid of their biggest weakness on a technicality?
You’re probably pretty well aware at this point the Crew have blown more leads late than any other team in MLS this season. So, legitimate – but also joking but also legitimate – question here: What happens to that trend now that they’re not playing a full 90? Is it a fatigue thing late in games or is mentally ingrained in them at this point? We may not get a chance to find out all things considered, but it’s the goofiest and best running subplot of this game.
And, to be fair, they did at least pull out an Uno reverse card and find a late comeback win of their own last week thanks to a late brace from Derrick Etienne Jr. Maybe that was enough to fix the problem.
Who steps up in attack?
We’re talking about the 27th (Charlotte) and 26th (Columbus) ranked offenses in MLS this year by expected goals. And I’m not sure you can rely on Daniel Rios to score four times every game, but who knows? No matter what, with both teams needing a win tonight, two lackluster attacks are going to have to find a way to make this work with 16 fewer minutes to get the job done. It seems like the Crew’s trio of Lucas Zelarayan, Cucho Hernandez and Etienne outweighs Charlotte on paper. But Charlotte are just a whole different beast at home. The only teams with more home wins this season are Philadelphia and LAFC.
Inter Miami CF vs. Orlando City SC
- WHEN: 8 pm ET
- WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+
Who steps up in attack?
Hey, so a lot of what I just said about tonight’s first game applies directly to this one. We’re talking about the 28th (Orlando City) and 22nd (Inter Miami) ranked offenses in MLS this year by expected goals. The difference is both teams have a pretty clear idea of multiple players who can make a difference.
Inter Miami will of course be looking to Gonzalo Higuain, Alejandro Pozuelo (who’s a question mark tonight) and Leo Campana to put something magical together. Higuain in particular has been spectacular lately, scoring 12 times in his last 15 games. Throw in some added motivation to keep this season going after announcing your retirement and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Higuain be the centerpiece of this game.
Orlando, meanwhile, have a few more questions. Is it forward Facundo Torres? Does midfielder Mauricio Pereyra pull some strings to create critical chances? Does striker Ercan Kara make up for a first season that’s been lackluster at times with one of the biggest goals of the year?
Well, odds are it’s Torres coming through. He’s riding a streak of 4g/3a in his last eight league games. That’s not quite the same hot streak Higuain is on, but it might be enough to cancel it out tonight.
More importantly, who controls midfield?
It’s not a crazy thesis to say both of these teams have survived up until this point thanks to their central midfield.
Junior Urso, Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena have played a key role in Orlando’s ability to repeatedly grind out results. Jean Mota and Gregore have turned Inter Miami from one of the easiest teams to play through in the league to a team that’s played decently and maybe even well defensively this season.
Both midfields have done enough to help their team get by and be in this exact situation. And whoever wins a gritty rock fight in the center of the pitch tonight probably does enough to give their attack enough opportunities to make up for its deficiencies.
New England Revolution midfielder Maciel out after Achilles tendon surgery: New England Revolution midfielder Maciel is out well into the 2023 season after undergoing successful surgery to repair his left Achilles tendon. Maciel’s rehabilitation is expected to take approximately 8-12 months.
Four clubs fined for Mass Confrontation Policy violations: The MLS Disciplinary Committee has issued several rulings ahead of the final week of the 2022 regular season.
Good luck out there. Be there for someone.